South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:25 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Flooding and Coastal Communities) 5:25 pm, 19th October 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I thank Scott Mann for securing this important debate. He talked about why farmers are at the beating heart of our community and of the huge contribution that they make to the British economy. I know that is very important; I have a lot of farmers in my constituency. He also touched on the difficulties farmers have recently faced with Rural Payments Agency payments, and said that they really need Government support as we move forward towards Brexit. He also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationships with our friends in the European Union; we need to do that to secure the future of our farming and fishing industries.

The importance of this debate is shown by the number of contributions from hon. and right hon. Members. My right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw talked about the importance of free trade with the European Union. Mr Cox discussed the need for food security—a point that came out strongly in the debate; it was picked up by my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, who also expressed concerns about what will happen to the seasonal workforce.

Jim Shannon talked about the importance of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. He followed the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who talked about the particular challenges faced by the fishing industry in the south-west. James Heappey asked a pertinent question: what is the long-term future of our farming industry? Anne Marie Morris asked for better-targeted support, which we will of course need.

I regularly meet farmers from across my constituency. They are concerned about their livelihoods and how much support they will receive in the future. There may well be new opportunities, as has been mentioned, but it is also clear that there are substantial challenges ahead. As we know, many rural and coastal communities have benefited from EU funding through the common agricultural policy payments, no matter how much that agreement is disliked, and also from funding for regeneration in our coastal communities and town centres.

The implications of Brexit for our fishing industry are highly uncertain. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that the UK was allocated more than €240 million in funding between 2014 and 2020, which was matched by the Government. I ask the Minister if that level of funding will continue following Brexit. It was said during the referendum campaign that regaining control of territorial waters would allow Britain’s fishing industry to thrive, and that leaving the EU would mean cutting red tape for farmers. Will the Minister give us a progress report on how she is getting on with that?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter also mentioned the collapse of the pound, and we know that inflation has risen sharply. That will have an impact on producers through, for example, fuel bills, and also on consumers, through the price that they pay for food. We still do not know what rural Britain will look like post-Brexit. We hope that it will not get worse, but it may by 2019. The media in the south-west are reporting that farmers and fishermen ae already concerned about the Government’s stance and about how the Government will defend their interests. What will the Minister say to reassure farmers and fishermen, not just in the south-west but across the country?

This country has benefited from billions of pounds of investment from the EU structural funds. Will the Government pick up that slack? Experts have forecast that Cornwall could, between now and 2027, need £1.1 billion of funding to match the EU structural funds payments. Will the Minister tell us if the Government will match that expected funding? Will they match the funding expected between now and 2017, which is the next tranche? I understand that civil servants are already becoming cautious about signing off projects that may not be completed before 2019. Will the money promised be ring-fenced and locally delivered? Rural and coastal communities have already been badly hit as a result of Government funding cuts.

We see significant uncertainty at a time when fishermen and farmers really need the reassurance of continued vital investment in the rural communities of which they are such an important part. We also need infrastructure investment for better transport, better phone signals and, as Sir Hugo Swire mentioned, better broadband.

How do the Government propose to replace and reform the current system of direct payments through the common agricultural policy? How do they propose to replace the funding provided through the EU’s rural development programmes? How do they propose to replace the EU funding for agricultural research programmes? Will they guarantee that the common fisheries policy regulations will not just be enshrined in UK law through the great repeal Bill, but will be retained, to give certainty to the fishing sector over future policy? Finally, how do the Government intend to make up for funding for the fishing sector derived from the European and maritime fisheries fund, once the UK has left the EU?

I know that there are a lot of questions for the Minister. I hope that she can give me answers today, but if not, I would greatly appreciate written answers.